Sri Lanka private sector, UNHCR pave the way for returning refugees

June 12, 2009 (LBO) – A United Nations agency is getting private sector support to help re-settle a part of the 660,000 refugees in the country who are starting to return to their former homes, officials said. Sri Lanka defeated Tamil Tiger separatists in a two and a half year campaign with first the East, then the Northwest and finally the Northeast areas under Tiger control being re-taken.


"In Sri Lanka now we have 660,000 displaced persons," says Amin Awad, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refuges (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka.


"It's a big number of people." After the most recent fighting, nearly 300,000 people mainly from Kilinocchi and Mullaitivu areas are housed in camps in Vavuniya in the north. In Mannar in the Northwest the government has already started to re-settle people.


In the Eastern province the process started earlier. Sri Lanka has weak infrastructure outside the Western Province around the capital due to decades of chronic under-investment in utilities. Public utilities in war-ravaged areas are even weaker.


Brandix Lanka, a top Sri Lankan apparel group, is working with the UNHCR to provide water and sanitation facilities to several communities that are being re-settled. Anusha Alles, who heads the charity unit of Brandix, says in an upcoming project in Kudumbimalai in the Batticaloa district in Eastern Sri Lanka, the firm will help finance a drinking water project.


Brandix has already helped boost the water supply at Karambe hospital in Puttalam district in Sri Lanka's Northwest.


Asanka Perera, a doctor attached to the Karambe hospital, said sometimes there was not enough water even to cook food for patients.


"There are many other hospitals in Sri Lanka that do not have main water lines," says Awad. The water projects are part of a series of quick action projects (QUIPs) that the UN agency targets to finish in 90 days. Awad says 78 such project have been completed so far.


UNHCR says other private companies can chip in as more refugees return home. "We hope Sri Lanka’s private sector will join in," said Awad.